Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on August 28th, 2008

In my earlier post on the conflict over South Ossetia, Darius wrote back with a comment, the response to which will be this post.

My initial question was regarding the specifically “Lithuanian” interest in supporting Georgia, but Darius responded that the pro-Georgian position is hardly surprising—in fact, it is the default, Western, mainstream position (especially now, as leaders like Merkel are coming around). That it is mainstream does not make it right, however. It is interesting to wonder about, in fact, the sources of its being a mainstream response. Is it Saakashvili’s western attitude and chumminess, which makes him seem like “one of us” and not the other? Is it the excited glee of a crew member’s seeing his home shore after almost twenty years of being adrift with the end of the Cold War? Or is it, as I suspected in my previous post, a borderline racist reaction to what is seen as the “authoritarian” and “imperialist” Russian character?

Are those necessarily (still) good reasons? How much of a threat, actually, is Russia, especially in comparison to, I don’t know, MFNNTR China? Why is the US so willing to publicly make the pro-Georgian case (as Joe Biden did last night, in a part of his speech that fell completely flat)?

But like I said, the interest local to this page is the Lithuanian interest. Darius, in his comment, makes a comment similar to what I saw in the Lithuanian press while I was still there: Because Georgia is a former SSR, as is Lithuania, the threats faced by Georgia are comparable/similar/equivalent to potential threats to Lithuania.

How true is that, however? As I wrote before, Lithuania, unlike Georgia, is in NATO. An attack on Lithuania is an attack on France, the UK, and, most importantly, the US. The attack on Georgia was not. Similarly, in much of what I’ve read, an iron hand in Ukraine and the Caucasus for Putin was the concession for letting the Baltic States join NATO, which points towards the actions of this conflict as being an overreach not only by Saakashvili, but also by NATO states (which recognized Kosovo, in another snub of Putin).

Furthermore, Georgia was a CIS state, which Lithuania never was. As such, Georgia entered into the Collective Security Treaty. And though they left the treaty after its first period expired, the point remains that the relationship between the two former SSRs and Russia (and the West!) are pretty dissimilar, from a defense/foreign policy standpoint.

Finally, Lithuania is a healthy democracy, which has managed to even impeach a head of state (a sign of the health there of the rule of law). Georgia, on the other hand, has a far sketchier democratic pedigree, and this includes Saakashvili, who campaigned on a hard nationalist promise of reintegrating the lost territories into greater Georgia. I assume there are Lithuanian politicians who salivate at the prospect of the return of Hrodno to Lithuania, but I do not suspect there are many serious presidential candidates who do so.

This last point, then, guts the possibility of Russia’s using the same excuse to attack Lithuania as it used on Georgia; the ethnic conflict simply is not there. And even if it were, then the issue becomes one of trying to move above/past ethnic divisions and understand foreign policy instead as one based on state interest. (Russia, of course, could gin up a different reason, perhaps starting with “K,” ending with “grad,” and with “alinin” in the middle…)

Pawns of the Russians or not (I’m mostly sure they are…), the people of South Ossetia have been making an ethnic claim to their right of independence, whereas Georgia is making a historical claim to deny it. Our world is one in which ethnic claims of self-determination still carry a lot of weight. If the LR were to dial down its ethnocentrism, then it would dilute the potential of ethnic minorities within Lithuania (with Russian backing) to make their own secessionist claims.

Dariaus claims of the potential for a Russian blunder in Georgia are similar (using even the same Clausewitz chestnut) to those in a piece by Daniel Nexon here, which has the benefit of being in English. It is entirely possible that Saakashvili will emerge the victor (assuming he manages to stay in power), and that seems to be more likely the case after hearing Biden last night. For whatever reason—oil, military contracts, psychological lack of direction, he talks English well—the US is overeager to support Saakashvili in Georgia, so I suppose the smartest thing would be not to write more posts but to just sit and wait.

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4 Responses to “Georgia reach”

  1. Moacir,
    I think you’re overlooking some important things. Russia could easily use the same excuses in Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine, as they are already doing in Moldova, where they are supporting the breakaway region of Transdniester.

    As for Lithuania, ever heard of the “Tuteisiai”? How different do you think they are from the Ossetians?

    RE: NATO, even as a member, Lithuania cannot simply forget about the security environment, which would certainly not be improved by an increase in Russian interference in the politics of neighboring countries.

    Georgia’s claims on S. Ossetia are based on its internationally-recognized borders, not merely on historical claims akin to the one’s you mention Lithuania could make.

    And you did not respond to my previous question: I wonder what you would have suggested Georgia do in this case other than what it actually did?

  2. Sorry, “ones” not “one’s”

  3. One more item, from CNN:

    Russia’s hopes of winning international support for its actions in Georgia were dashed Thursday, when China and other Asian nations expressed concern about tension in the region.

    The joint declaration from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, said the countries hoped that any further conflict could be resolved peacefully.

  4. And you do not accidentally from Moscow?

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